Circles of Light

shakuhachi, violin or cello, koto
(2016) 11′

Program Note

In many photographs the image’s background is thrown out of focus in order to highlight a subject in the foreground. Photographers refer to the quality of the out-of-focus elements by a word with Japanese origins, bokeh, meaning "blurred." These abstract collages of soft shapes and muted colors have always proven a source of fascination for me. At times, due to how light refracts in the camera’s lens, distant points of light become large, blurry circles, filling the darkness of a night scene. It can make for a beautiful effect, one in which something miniscule on the horizon becomes far more meaningful and influential that it would have appeared otherwise.

But how could I recreate such an effect musically? Circles of Light explores a world of circular patterns, melodies that are sometimes played in unison by the trio of instruments but at three slightly different speeds. At other points the violin and shakuhachi play the same stretched-out melodies, though their lines are not entirely in sync with one another. And like the discs of light in the blurred background of a photograph, the koto lays a foundation of circling melodic patterns throughout.

Circles of Light was originally composed for shakuhachi, violin and 21-string koto, and was transcribed for shakuhachi, cello and 13-string koto in 2017.

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